Monday, November 15, 2010

Three Directors - One Show

Norman Carlberg, Evan Pappas & Ellen Harvey…..all three directors of “Life! Love! Song! A Visit with Gena Branscombe.” A one-woman show ….how does one person get so lucky to have three wonderful directors? Life is not predictable or fair at times.

In my April 8, 2010, blog I wrote of my first director, Norman Carlberg, who gave wings to my show and saw me through to the opening night at the Liederkranz Club in April 2004. I am thankful to him for comprehending and supporting my mission to get Gena Branscombe’s life story out to the world. Norm died suddenly of a heart attack in July 2005.

At that time I was about to go back into rehearsals with Norm for upcoming performances. Evan Pappas, my co-author, and I had rewritten the script, made cuts and sharpened the show. I was excited to get back on my feet and perform this diamond of a show. Norm’s death meant I had no director and was in need of someone to help me put the show back together.

Without hesitation I called Evan and invited him to be my director. With a decisive, “Yes!” Evan and I took our partnership with the show to another level. I gave Evan the video tape of the first performance and from there he took control of Gena Branscombe on stage. He kept the outline of Norm Carlberg’s staging adding more comedic buttons as well as making the dramatic moments more poignant. In rehearsal we continued to rewrite the script, restage sections, and experiment with new ways of presenting the material we had written. The show began to sparkle in a way I had dreamed about yet did not know how to make possible. Our next performances had a new verve and the audiences loved it.

Several months passed and once again it was time to go back into rehearsal for future performances. Evan had been in a touring production of On Golden Pond when tragedy literally struck his life. Driving a vehicle that was broadsided, Evan was near death, spending two months recovering in the hospital. Devastating is the only word that comes to mind. This vibrant, multi-talented, loving and charming person nearly had his life taken and all we could do was hope and pray for his complete recovery.

His return from the tour was to have been the beginning of our rehearsal period. For a second time, I was without a director. As had happened during the entire inception of my Gena Project, someone was close at hand to help me.

Friend and neighbor, Ellen Harvey agreed to step in and rehearse the show. What a blessing. Ellen is a veteran actor/singer having performed in the Music Man and Thou Shalt Not on Broadway and toured in Mama Mia, Disney’s High School Musical and Mary Poppins. She studied our script and Gena’s music, then made some suggestions for script clarity changes. We ran through the show and from there Ellen’s insights gave us crisper character thoughts and timing. Again this one-woman show took on new facets for performance. Thanks to Ellen our next performances of Life! Love! Song! were well received.

We are thankful that Evan fully recovered from his car accident and has returned to being my director. In the ensuing few years we have rehearsed, making small changes here and there, always looking for new ways to improve the show. A special heartfelt thank you to Evan for his belief in Life! Love! Song!, his brilliant knowledge of theatre and for being a co-author, director and friend.

As I write these blogs about people who helped me along the way, the words “thank you” recur frequently. It may seem trite, yet without people like Norm, Evan and Ellen, my Gena show would not be the gem it is today. They unselfishly gave of themselves believing in the beauty of Gena Branscombe’s life and music and my determination to present it to the world.

So, a one-woman show and my three directors …..lucky and blessed am I to have had these brilliant and talented people be part of my Gena Project. Mille grazie!

Friday, October 22, 2010


There is no need to tally up the years one has had a dedicated friend as the number is meaningless, the quality of friendship, a blessing in one’s life and, ….well, priceless, to quote an advertisement. Thus it is with my treasured friend Julie TeSlaa.

We met while Julie was in Junior High School and I was in college. It’s frightening to say that I was Julie’s voice teacher….what did I know about vocal technique in those years? Oh, dear me… to nothing. Still, Julie and I became fast friends.

She was introduced to opera when I took her to hear/see the Metropolitan Opera during their Spring tour in Minneapolis. She heard art song recitals by the great singers when they also came to Minneapolis. She was a sponge taking it all in.

As for Julie as a singer, with a 1000 watt smile, her sweet voice comes with the heart and soul of a performer. Standing a mere 4’10” she had the ability to draw you into her world of a song touching the audience’s soul.

So time marches on and so does our friendship. Julie, ever the true friend, has traveled to visit me in Cincinnati and New York. Without hesitation she used New York City’s public transportation and she loves every minute she has spent here. Hooked on New York is Julie!

She has two beautiful adult children though she never has or ever will look old enough to have had children! How can someone continue to look so youthful and now be a grandmother?

Previous postings on my blog are about Gena Branscombe and the supportive people surrounding me as I developed my project. So now it is time to talk about Julie, her husband, Orlin, and their help as well as dedication to my CD and one-woman show.

Stated in the booklet included with my CD is a paragraph thanking the people who helped me. Listed first are Julie and Orlin. These two cherished friends blew wind into the sails of my Gena Branscombe journey and without them I doubt Martin and I would have made the progress we did. It may sound dramatic yet it is true.

When I first shared with Julie my intentions of making a recording, her response was, “What can we do to help?” Speechless, yes, me speechless, I did not know how to respond. Shortly thereafter, Julie and Orlin sent financial help that covered the cost of recording and editing sessions. To say the least, I was thankful and finding the continuing words to say “Thank You” was difficult.

Their support is more than just money. It found deeper meaning in the many years of our friendship, the connection that music is what first brought us together and music continues to connect us so deep in our souls, plus their open-hearted, selfless gift of themselves. They have continued to be generous and supportive, always cheering me on every time there is a radio interview where my CD is given air time, or when we book yet another performance of “Life! Love! Song! A Visit with Gena Branscombe.”

Just when I need a pick-me-up, there is Julie on the phone checking to see how the Gena project is going. Ever sympathetic and understanding, she reminds me that I have so much to be thankful for……sincerely good and cherished friends, performing music of a woman composer whose heartfelt compositions speak to me and thus I can give that to the audience and, I have made a difference in the music world at large.

Trite as the words, “thank you for all you have done for me” may sound, they will have to suffice for you know that you deeply touch my heart.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Gena Branscombe's Life in Pictures

As I have written my blog entries, I realized recently that more has been said about my Gena Branscombe project than about Gena Branscombe the person.

When I perform my lecture recital, “Gena Branscombe: Her Life in Poetry & Song” after singing the opening song, I begin speaking with the statement,

“Gena Branscombe born Picton, Ontario, November 4, 1881 died New York City July 1977. Daughter, woman, wife, working mother with four daughters, pianist, accompanist, composer, conductor; founder, conductor, fund raiser and organizer for over twenty years of her women’s chorus The Branscombe Choral, leader of women holding executive offices in such organizations as the National League of American Pen Women, General Federation of Women’s Clubs, National Federation of Music Clubs, Society of American Women Composers, Altrusa International and more…..oh, and did I mention, she was the mother of four?”

Here in pictures is Gena’s life with a little commentary. I trust this will explain my fascination and dedication with this woman composer from one hundred years ago.

Gena Branscombe and her mother, Sara Alison Branscombe. The photo was taken in Picton, Ontario, Canada where Gena was born. Sara Branscombe was a poet and newspaper woman. Throughout her composing years, Gena set many of her mother's poems.....quite successfully!

Portraits of a young Gena Branscombe. Unfortunately there are no dates to these pictures yet look how gorgeous she was!

From the Summer of 1909 to June 1910 Gena along with her friend, Lillian Boulter, spent one year studying piano and composition in Berlin, Germany. During that time she had the honor of studying with the real Englebert Humperdinck. This picture was taken near his home. Imagine a woman traveling alone.....100 years ago. What spirit and what an inspiration!

The National League of American Pen Women's composers. Gena is in the back row, second from the right. Mrs Amy Beach is in the front row, second from the left. All the composers autographed this photo. These were the famous women composers of the early 20th century.

John Ferguson Tenney, Gena's husband. Originally from Methuen, MA, he was a lawyer. Gena and John met in Walla Walla, Washington where she was on the faculty of Whitman Conservatory. They were married in Picton, Ontario, August 1910. He insisted they live in New York City to further Gena's career. He was a dedicated husband and father babysitting his daughters so his wife could compose.

Gena Branscombe with her eldest daughter, Gena Tenney. Both mother and daughter were musicians. Gena Tenney went on to major in music at Barnard College, studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in London and returned to New York City where she was head of the Music Department at Barnard.

Gena Branscombe with her husband John Ferguson Tenney, his parents and their three daughters.

Gena's daughters Vivian, Beatrice and Gena Tenney.

Spring concerts for the Branscombe Choral were performed at Town Hall in New York City. This photo is from 1949.

The Branscombe Choral performing Christmas Carols for the communters at Grand Central Station. An annual event for the Choral.

Grandsons - Roger and Morgan Phenix
This picture taken in 1975 just two years before her death. She looks youthful at age 94.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Radio Interview

My CD was out in 2003 ….actually released for distribution and what a thrill it was. Now what……?

Albany Records sent copies of my CD to their list of radio stations as part of the release and in hopes of enticing them to play it during programming. Stations are inundated with new CDs each and every day so I realized without some leg work on my part, my CD would not get air time. In today’s world radio stations are part of a conglomerate where programming is an executive decision and the broadcasts are sent out from a central studio to stations around the country.

The creative and business part of my brain took over as I scoured the internet for classical radio programs featuring women in music projects and new works programs. My job was to find independent and community supported stations whose announcers were creative as well as inquisitive with their programming. Would they dare to play a CD of a non-famous performer, of a forgotten composer from the past? Would announcers and programmers take that chance? Are they progressive enough to understand a project like mine and my dedication to this woman composer Gena Branscombe?

I found eight stations whose program hosts were inspired by my story and took the time to interview me and play my CD. Every interview was done by a woman who put forth a woman in music venture. I am thankful to them and their stations for giving me air time.

While performing with the Acadia Choral Society in Bar Harbor, I noticed an advertisement in the concert program for WERU’s “Women’s Voices” program. Little did I know the announcer for the program was Choral Society member Marge May. I sent my CD and a letter to the station mentioning that I had frequently performed in the Bar Harbor area, my project was about a woman composer and hopefully we could tie it in to their program. A while later a response came from Marge saying she would be happy to feature my CD as well do an interview for her program. Marge had done her homework preparing questions and insights into our project. Following our telephone interview she went to work intertwining cuts from the CD with our taped remarks. The flow from music to us speaking and back to music was effortless highlighting the fluidity of Gena’s life and career. What a beautiful job she did. Thanks to Marge May, known as Magdalen on the air, we had our first successful interview! Some day soon, I promise to share this interview on my website!

“The Latest Score” hosted by Canary Burton of WOMR in Provincetown, MA features new works by composers, newly released CDs and promotes unique music projects and performances. What an enthusiastic, supportive person she is. Canary interviewed Martin, Laurine and I and played cuts from the CD. Not only did she interview us in November 2004 but in April 2007, she interviewed us a second time helping to promote our upcoming performance of “Life! Love! Song! A Visit with Gena Branscombe” in Quincy, Massachusetts. Canary endorsed our performance encouraging her listening audience to attend!

Canary’s interview style is friendly, laid back and relaxed allowing us to explain in detail Gena’s life, music and the development of our project. Occasionally I will receive an e-mail from her advising me that she will be rebroadcasting the interviews! Thank you Canary, you are a dear!

It came as quite a surprise when Deirdre Saravia of Texas Public Radio invited me for an interview. Via telephone she asked me about Gena, the recording and how the entire project evolved. Later she merged the interview with the music and it was broadcast in March 2005. To know that listeners in Texas were introduced to Gena’s music was encouraging!
Marvin Rosen of “Classical Discoveries” on WPRB in Princeton, NJ played selections from my CD. He features new and unusual music on his program.

Sarah Cahill and I met at a women in music festival entitled “Ladyfingers” whose main objective was the performance of piano compositions by women composers. Though I do not play piano in a way that would draw an audience, I did sing chant by the medieval composer Hildegard von Bingen. Sarah invited me to be on her KALW program, “Then and Now” should I ever be in San Francisco. In May 2005 Dan and I were in the Bay Area. Sarah interviewed me live in the studio and played selections from my CD.

Sarah is a brilliant pianist with twelve recordings of her own. An avid performer of contemporary composers and their music, her playing is at once lyrical and can reach the demands of extended piano techniques. As a radio interviewer she is friendly and willing to help out a fellow musician.

A 7 AM live and in person interview at WORT in Madison, Wisconsin found me arriving at the station at 6:45 AM. I was met by Jessica Courtier, host of the show, “Other Voices.” We spent 20 minutes playing songs from the CD and discussing Gena Branscombe’s influence on the music world at large. What a way to start your day!

Marian Mapes-Bouck of KMUD in Garberville, California interviewed me live via telephone, twice. For her show “Women in Music, Marian had requested CDs of women composers or performers. Quickly I submitted my CD with a letter and Marian contacted me shortly thereafter.

When we set the interview time for early March 2008 I had no idea what to expect of her questions to me. What we thought would be a 15 minute interview including cuts from the CD went on for nearly 25 minutes. Marian had done her homework and knew an extensive amount about Gena and her music. Her questions were thought provoking and I found myself digging deeper into my well of information on Gena Branscombe. As we arrived at the subject of my one-woman show, her questions turned to how I came upon the idea of doing the show, how we wrote the dialogue, how did we choose the portions of Gena’s life to highlight, how the show was produced, where we had performed and would be performing. She understood the importance of my show and with her questions her listening audience realized the creativity it took to make it all this a reality.

Later that month Marian invited me to return to the air with her while KMUD was doing their fund-raising week. I offered three free CDs to listeners who donated to the station. We need stations like KMUD!

Marian passed away in November 2009. To have lost the hero of KMUD’s “Women in Music” is a loss to the music world at large. A true champion for women, a teacher, a musician and singer herself, she leaves behind those of us blessed to have been touched by her enthusiasm for our projects.

Radio station CKWR in Waterloo, Ontario requested women to submit CDs for their show, “Women in Music” hosted by Mary Lou Schagena. With the usual sending out of my CD and a letter explaining that Gena was born and raised in nearby Picton, Ontario, I received an e-mail not only expressing interest in a live 8 PM telephone interview, in addition, my CD would be highlighted for play on the 9 PM show, “Monday Evening Concert” hosted by Tom Quick. A double whammy of radio time!

Mary Lou had done her home work and her lively personality made for a fun interview. Her questions about Gena again made me dig deep for further details and then we hit upon my one-woman show. Mary Lou’s enthusiasm was infectious and she quickly inquired about possible Canadian performances. What was to have been a ten minute interviewed spilled over to 25 minutes. Several days later in a private phone conversation she gave me names, theatres and concert series in Canada and suggestions about whom we could send our publicity materials.

So this is an extensive blog filled with names and dates, details and fond memories of radio interviews. Most important are the people and hosts I met along the way, their passion for promoting women in music and their fearless faith that their listening audiences would catch on. I have been interviewed on both the East and West Coasts and in the middle of our country. How lucky I have been.

There seems to be a pattern that when offered a ten minute interview, it quietly extends itself because of the passion I have for Gena’s life and music and because the show’s hosts “got it.” Well, maybe it means I like to talk…..a lot…..!

Thank you to all of you brilliant radio hosts and your loyal listening audiences.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Elizabeth Leif

"Patron of the Arts" is a term long familiar to the creative world at large. The history of music shows that the courts of England, Germany, Austria and Italy supported such composers as Mozart, Handel, Haydn and Monteverdi. These composers were commissioned to write and perform pieces for specific occasions where musicians were hired, choral anthems, operas, chamber music or symphonies were performed all to entertain the court and the common people and, most important, paid for by royalty!

Times have not changed in over 500 years. Today, we in the arts continue to rely on the generosity of people who understand that music, dance and art influence our daily lives. Music soothes our aural and spiritual souls. Art inhabits our visual and spiritual souls. Dance thrills us, leaving our physical and spiritual souls with heightened awareness of the beauty the human body can express.

The price of concert tickets does not cover the expenses for performances so we have billion dollar corporations who donate money to keep symphony orchestras, opera and ballet companies as well as concert venues alive to serve their audiences.

Individual performers often wonder if their creative projects will find a person or a venue who will help fund their expenses. We search far and wide, and then one day someone to whom you have sent your publicity packet actually takes the time to open it, read it, and considers presenting and promoting your creative work. Thus was the story with a beautiful and charming lady by the name of Elizabeth Leif.

In Elizabeth we found a woman whose worldly life and special curiosity led her to read through my publicity packet and decide that this one-woman show about Gena Branscombe must be presented in the Quincy, Massachusetts area. A phone call from Elizabeth to my agent expressing her interest was the beginning of a beautiful and continuing friendship for all of us.

A registered nurse with her initial training from Quincy Hospital, Elizabeth soon found herself living in England for one year's study of mid-wifery. As a specialist in maternal and child health care, she spent three and a half years working in Tanzania. She obtained her Masters degree in Public Health from Yale Medical School and worked for the United Nations in Central America again as a maternal and child health specialist. To round off her career, she worked as a consultant to the National Academy of Pediatrics for Maternal and Child Health helping to set up clinics in high risk areas. What a calling and one where I know she served her patients with the utmost love, respect and care.

What made a registered nurse take a second glance at an unusual publicity packet? Having been President of the Old Stoughton Musical Society and President of the Old Stoughton Historical Society, Elizabeth wrote the first journal of the music society entitled, "The Chorister." This retrospecitve recounts the history of Stoughton and its music society; the oldest continuing performing organization in the United States dating back to the 1700s. In addition Elizabeth researched the history of Stoughton, the birth place of American Freedom.

Our registered nurse and historian knew when she read our packet that this was an important and historical woman composer with close ties to Massachusetts. Elizabeth understood deep down the significance of Gena Branscombe and the mission of the Old Stoughton Musical Society.

Using her own personal funds and ingenuity, Elizabeth produced "Life! Love! Song! A Visit with Gena Branscombe." With determination Elizabeth set forth booking a concert hall at Eastern Nazarene College, arranged for the piano, found us housing, provided the necesssary stage furniture and a lighting person. Lydia Wallace, Elizabeth's long time friend and a professional graphic artist, created colorful programs, tickets and flyers. With the help of friends, Elizabeth papered the towns, churches and schools with flyers inviting one and all to attend.

Martin, Elizabeth and I were interviewed on the radio by Canary Burton of WOMR in Provincetown, MA, not far from Quincy! We managed to get the word out about our upcoming performances!

Not a detail was missed and against some seemingly insurmountable odds, Elizabeth gave us the opportunity to perform two Gena shows for the people of Stoughton and Quincy!
What a fun time we had with these lovely and dear women. They gave of themselves emotionally and financially. How blessed we were and are. From this experience we have remained friends and on occasion I call to chat with them. A treasured memory on the path of exposing the world to the life and music of Gena Branscombe.

Thank you Elizabeth and Lydia!

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Twenty years of collaboration….how does one write about those twenty years without sounding sentimental, saccharin and overly emotional? My job now is putting into words what it has been like to have an accompanist, collaborator, cheerleader and dear friend named Martin Hennessy.

“Concerts to Go” was a program sponsored by the music series at Trinity Church in New York City. With a baritone friend, Martin and me, we traveled subways and buses to perform opera arias, duets and show tunes in nursing homes throughout the five boroughs. Touching these elderly people’s lives with the gift of music and watching the smiles on their faces was a reward beyond what words can express.

Martin became my coach and accompanist from that original collaboration. Over the past twenty years we have prepared and performed countless recital programs. He has helped me learn oratorios that I have sung from New York to Maine. He knew which of my buttons to push to make me reach deeper inside myself allowing me to find ways to express the music and words in a more profound way. His knowledge and ability to teach musical style and languages are a singer’s dream of an accompanist!

Then, ten years ago I came to Martin with the first songs of Gena Branscombe’s that I had found. We read through the songs and immediately Martin said, “Who is this woman?” and “You need to record these songs.”

Truthfully, if it had not been for Martin’s encouragement I doubt I would have begun work on Gena’s music. He seemed to know that this project would change my career and give me a direction to use all of my creative abilities from researching, preparing and recording music, the business aspects of promotion for such a project, to writing and performing a one-woman show. Yes, Martin knew, encouraged and cheered me on. He had a vision of the dress I would wear for the CD cover pictures and was able to describe it in great detail long before the dress became a reality. Yes, he knew!

As I discovered that Gena wrote 150 art songs and a multitude of piano works, the whittling down of repertoire for the CD became important. With Martin’s help we made artistic decisions as to which songs would create a complete picture of Gena’s stylistic output. Martin offered to record four of the piano works written for Gena’s daughters. To sit back in the recording session and experience the heart and beauty of his playing touched my soul. Listen to the CD and you will understand.

Martin had previously recorded at Town Hall and recommended we record there using David Smith as our sound engineer. Recording is an animal in and of itself yet with Martin’s support and David’s expertise we produced a beautiful homage to the music of Gena Branscombe. During sessions though we were concentrated on doing a good job, Martin managed always to see the bright side and kept us laughing at our mistakes. We did need to lighten our attitudes even in the midst of intense work.

Albany Records picked up our recording for publishing and distribution. We were honored. Our CD, “Ah! Love, I Shall Find Thee: Songs of Gena Branscombe” was released late 2003 and signaled the beginning of our work on the one-woman show.

There was Martin encouraging me to continue down an unknown creative pathway. He carefully nudged me on to build a complete woman’s music project. He gave me strength and courage to face it all. Where does this incredible man find the depth of spirit to shout his approval of a woman composer from the past and a female singer fashioning a whole new world of women’s music for her career?

As we went into rehearsals for the premiere of “Life! Love! Song! A Visit with Gena Branscombe,” Martin embraced being musical director of the show and also participated as a dramatic character. He suggested and created his entrance to the stage which has purpose and it works beautifully. Martin improvised, played fillers and eventually was given a singing solo! He has done all this work with a great professional quality and a passion every singer should have the joy to experience.

There was never a doubt in my mind that Martin was there for me at every note, beat, dramatic moment or my personal ups and downs. He is always at my side, front and center! Every singer should be blessed with such an accompanist as Martin.

We began taking “Life! Love! Song!” on the road. Performing partners do not always travel well together. Not us…..we have the best time laughing, driving, flying and enjoying one another’s lives and hearts. I always have the feeling Martin is taking care of me while we travel, concerned that I am OK and have all the necessary encouragement to perform at my best.

Martin will now join my colleague, Barbara Dana, and I as music director of our Emily Dickinson show, “I Told My Soul to Sing.” His acting abilities will be tested and we know he will love the challenge! His pianistic and collaborative qualities without a doubt will be the best he has to give us.

I admit to having waxed poetic about Martin yet every word is true. Still there are many facets to his personality and life. On occasion I refer to him as my Irish leprechaun as he does have a devilish and deliciously wicked sense of humor. His smile and personality light up our lives and the stage where he performs with us.

His knowledge of wine, well, contact him and he can give you terrific, tasty suggestions with most of them under $15. He’s a fabulous cook, a gracious host, loving, crazy and generous to those of us lucky enough to work with him. You will hear Martin talking about and promoting nearly every one of his colleagues with whom he works. How lucky we are!

He is a composer whose music reaches such depth of soul whether it be his songs, piano or instrumental works. His music will be remembered for many decades to come.
So, this is my accompanist, dear friend, cheerleader and the reason my Gena Project has become what it is. Thank you dear, dear Martin.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gena Sis

Satin covered buttons attached to the back of a hand sewn lace dress, snaps lovingly fastened under those buttons to ensure the lace does not tear. Small even stitches join the silk lining to the bodice of the dress. Yes, the dress was made by Gena Branscombe! We surmise she wore it to perform.

In March 2002 my colleague and friend Laurine Elkins Marlow gifted me this dress because, “You need to have the dress near you.” A beautiful and treasured item!

What does this dress represent?….a ten year friendship that has meant the world to me and born out of my Gena Branscombe project. It is now time for me to tell the story of people behind the scenes.

For three continuous days after Gena Branscombe’s death in July 1977, Laurine labored in Miss Branscombe’s apartment to organize and catalogue her original manuscripts and published music. Gena’s music was everywhere …..on top of the piano, under the piano, on the floor, on tables, under tables…….piles of music needing attention. Months later the collection was donated to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Laurine was given access to Miss Branscombe’s correspondence, calendars, news articles, programs, recordings and much more. Gena’s daughters gave Laurine the tea cup she used during her interview sessions with the composer and, Gena’s lace dress was a gift to her.

She has regaled me with Gena stories in such detail that I felt as if I were in the room at that very moment being described. Laurine spent 18 months interviewing Miss Branscombe, taking notes, looking at this woman’s life story, her career in music and deciding it needed to be told to the world. Then, imagine it is 1975 and you appear before your Doctoral committee proposing a dissertation on a living woman composer. Unheard of even in the liberal days of 1975! Yet Laurine with the help of her advisor persevered and thus her dissertation.

Dr. Laurine Elkins Marlow, college professor at Texas A&M, researcher bar-none and author of “Gena Branscombe: American Composer and Conductor, A Study of Her Life and Works; Doctoral Dissertation.” She is the authority on Gena Branscombe.

Her lilting Southern accent, her friendly no-nonsense way and her warmth flowed through the telephone lines the day we first spoke. In the ensuing years we have had countless phone conversations, meetings and e-mails. Laurine dubbed me her “Gena-sis” and she has been there for me ever since!

Generous of spirit, Laurine saw to it that I received copies of songs not in the library, a copy of her dissertation, access to her at all times when I needed help with song interpretation or she patiently listened as I peppered her with questions about Gena, her personality, what drove her, her daily routine, her music, her background, her children, husband and family life. Details, details and more details . She allowed me to dig through her boxes of Gena research which included calendars, newspaper articles, and some correspondence. Her writing expertise and knowledge of Miss Branscombe shone through the liner notes she wrote for my CD. Thanks to Laurine, I have twice appeared at Texas A&M performing my lecture recital and one-woman show.

As a team we spent two days at the Library of Congress where they hold Miss Branscombe’s original score and orchestra parts to her oratorio “Pilgrims of Destiny.” Laurine read through Miss Branscombe’s letters to her publisher Arthur P Schmidt, while I researched the same publisher’s photos of Gena and the accounting of how she was paid royalties. We drove to western Virginia to interview Gena Tenney Phenix spending several hours questioning her about her mother. What a sweet and memorable time it was!

Together we presented a lecture recital at the Festival of Women Composers in Pennsylvania.

Laurine flew to New York for the premiere of Life! Love! Song! A Visit with Gena Branscombe.” Having her in the audience was a thrill and a four year culmination of her teaching me about Gena Branscombe.

My friend and colleague Laurine is a zany lady with a fun sense of humor, an unending curiosity and willingness to learn; generous and loving, open hearted and my Gena-sis! Without her Gena Branscombe’s life and music would not have come into the 21st century.

There is more to Laurine than her music career. All of her life she has been an avid horse woman. Owning up to three horses at one time, Laurine now shelters her one horse just outside College Station. Each morning and evening she drives out to feed and ride her beloved Roo. I have learned more about horses, their personalities, trading horses, horse paraphernalia, horse shows, horse vets and horse trailers from Laurine! Yet, all this speaks of who Laurine is…a caring, curious and nurturing person comfortable both in the classical music world and pitching hay to her horse.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Guardian Angels

During the past year I have lost two dear friends….both part of my cheering section during the development of my Gena Project, the recording of my CD and my one-woman show.

Loss is always a difficult item for us to face. As children we are invincible, as teenagers infallible, as young adults we know we have years to accomplish what we want – the world is ours on a silver platter. The years fly by and slowly we have reached the age where we notice those few lines on our faces, our bodies have those creaks and pains and then a stark reality, a dear friend dies. What happened to our invincibility, infallibility and the abundant years?

So, I have faced this kind of loss not just once but recently, twice. Two lovely, strong women, individuals in their own right, supporters of the arts and music, and people whose footprints will forever be on my heart.

I met Millie McGonagle while I was a student at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. She attended student recitals and opera productions encouraging all of us to keep up our studies.

After I left Minnesota to attend graduate school, Millie would write asking me to keep her informed of my performances and auditions. When I returned home we would meet for lunch to discuss my career or concerts and operas we had attended. We always had a great time laughing and enjoying one another’s company.

When I shared with Millie my having found the music of Gena Branscombe and the recording of a CD, her enthusiasm was infectious. She cheered me on. Her Christmas cards arrived with questions as to how the entire project was going. Our infrequent phone conversations were filled with our passion for classical music and the continuance of our sweet friendship.

A trained pianist and at one time a music teacher, Millie was a big fan of the Metropolitan Opera’s Spring Tour to Minneapolis where she attended all seven operas presented. She supported the Minnesota Orchestra’s concerts performed at nearby St. Benedict’s College.

Millie passed away on June 6, 2010. A dear person, gracious, elegant, humor-filled and one whose enthusiasm reached the level of guardian angel for many a young singer. Millie you are missed. Knowing her as I did, it is my belief she is still watching over each and every one of us. Thank you for deeply touching my life.

My dear friend Kathy Neeb died on April 18, 2009. Acquaintances since High School and dear friends from our days as music majors at St. Cloud State, eventually Kathy went on to become a registered nurse and a published author of a textbook on Fundamentals of Mental Health Nursing. Impressive, indeed! She remained a choir singer and a big fan of classical music.

Through thick and thin Kathy stuck by me as a friend. She waved goodbye as I left Minnesota to attend graduate school and then on to New York City. She called or wrote to discuss what was up with my career. Her ability to be my friend through my own personal difficult times reached depths I was unable to accept or comprehend yet there she was with a smile, a hug, her quick cackling laugh and forgiveness. A down-home, no-nonsense person she was!

Kathy was the first of my friends with whom I shared the idea that I might take on my Gena project. This unusual music I found….no one had performed it, maybe a CD and all the other items that came my way during my project found Kathy’s enthusiasm and cheering almost deafening. She kept telling me to follow my instincts, follow the road that was ahead of me and her advice on how I might proceed, was wisdom filled.

She was unable to travel to New York for the premiere of “Life! Love! Song! A Visit with Gena Branscombe.” Though her physical presence was not there, her heart and spirit were with me.

December 27, 2008 I called to wish Kathy a Belated Happy Birthday when she told me she was not feeling well. A few weeks later Kathy was still under the weather and at the end of January 2009 saw a doctor. Early February 2009 she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Devastating news! Yet true to her indomitable spirit she fought as hard as any person could possibly fight. Her family surrounded her with support, research for cancer treatments and trips to Chicago for the best care possible. She lost her battle.

Two great women….now my personal guardian angels. Thank you for sharing your lives with the music world. You are missed.